When New England transplants in California’s Silicon Valley get a yearning for a lobster roll, they head to the Old Port Lobster Shack.

Wait, what? There’s a lobster shack named after Portland in California, land of sunshine and sushi?

Actually, there are three. And now, the owner of the California restaurants wants to open a fourth Old Port Lobster Shack at 425 Fore St., in the heart of the original Old Port.

Restaurateur Russell Deutsch of Portola Valley, California, was in Maine this week to appear before the Portland City Council and start the permitting process. His liquor license application was approved unanimously.

“My dream was always to have one in the Old Port,” he said during an interview while he was in town.

But is there room in Portland for another restaurant serving lobster rolls, fried clams and other lobster shack fare?


Jonathan St. Laurent, a Maine chef remembered widely for Uncle Billy’s Southside BBQ, his South Portland restaurant that closed in 1995, now works as a caterer and restaurant consultant. He helped longtime friend Deutsch launch his popular California lobster shacks. When he first heard Deutsch was planning to open a fourth shack, this one in the real Old Port, he called the idea “completely ludicrous.”

“I don’t know what he’s thinking,” St. Laurent said from his winter residence in Florida, where he was fishing for a supper of redfish and sea trout. “But that’s all right. He’s something different.”

St. Laurent said Deutsch’s California restaurants are “really, really successful” because they are filling a niche. Even with a good location, lots of foot traffic and Portland’s great restaurant scene, opening a lobster shack here “strikes me as being a little more challenging.”

“It’s not going to be so novel to get a lobster roll,” St. Laurent said. “Gee whiz, you can get them at McDonald’s in Maine.”

But he also believes that if anyone can pull it off in Portland, it’s the “very ambitious” Deutsch.



Who is Russell Deutsch and why does he want to open a landlocked lobster shack in Portland?

Deutsch is a Boston native who lived in Portland for 12 years while he ran a lobster export business. He lived in an apartment above Gritty McDuff’s and had a license plate that said “OLDPORT.” In 2001, after he married, he moved to California. For a while, after he and his wife had two sons, he became a stay-at-home dad.

Deutsch’s big epiphany about getting into the restaurant business came when he went to watch the Red Sox play the Oakland A’s. He decked himself out in his Red Sox cap and shirt, fully expecting to be the only member of Red Sox Nation in the ballpark.

“I’m thinking I’m going to get beat up in there,” he recalled. “And lo and behold, there’s more Red Sox fans than A’s fans. I said ‘OK, I think there’s a business in here somewhere.’ ”

It dawned on him that a lot of the graduates of New England schools worked in the San Francisco Bay area, including Silicon Valley, and were probably lobster starved. So he wrote a business plan and got in touch with his old contacts from the exporting business. He opened his first lobster shack in Redwood City, in a strip mall next to a Super Cuts. It struggled at first; then three or four months in, the San Francisco Chronicle wrote a review. “The next day we had 250 people in line at my door,” he said, “and it hasn’t settled down since.”

The second restaurant launched in Portola Valley, where a lot of Silicon Valley executives live. The third lobster shack is in San Jose, in the second busiest mall in the country.


St. Laurent has helped him with all three, flying out to train the mostly Mexican staff on how to make Maine specialties like lobster rolls and whoopie pies.

The Old Port Lobster Shack restaurants (and a food truck Deutsch calls the “ShackMobile”) serve New England clam chowder, steamers, fried clams, blueberry pie and other lobster shack fare. Lobster rolls are served two ways: The “Maine Lobstah Roll” is mixed with Hellmann’s mayonnaise, scallions and salt and pepper, and served with fries and cole slaw for $19.75, according to a sample menu. The “Naked Lobster Roll” comes plain, with mayo and drawn butter on the side.

The restaurants even serve Shipyard and Allagash beers on tap. And in the gift shop, you’ll find wild Maine blueberry syrup and jam.

Deutsch flies in fresh seafood from New England three times a week. His picnic table seating comes from Aroostook County. The lobster buoys, lobster traps and other shack decor also come from Maine. When the J.J. Nissen plant closed in Portland, Deutsch bought 25 of its custom-made baking pans for making split-top rolls so he can serve a more authentic lobster roll.

“It’s far and above the best bread I’ve ever had in a lobster roll,” St. Laurent said.



St. Laurent, who grew up clamming in Cape Elizabeth, said one of the things he’s learned from working with Deutsch is how much Mainers take living here for granted. “When I got out there and started working with him,” St. Laurent said, “I realized what a tremendous resource Maine seafood is and how sought after it is. It represents so much nostalgia.”

Not long ago, Deutsch asked his friend Michael Michalski to come to California from Maine to be his chief financial officer. Michalski’s wife, Helene, owned Helene M, a woman’s apparel store on Fore Street, next door to Gelato Fiasco. The couple moved to California last August, which made that retail space available for an Old Port Lobster Shack.

The 1,800-square-foot Portland restaurant, which will be open from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., will be decorated like the California restaurants and include an oyster bar and outdoor seating. “It’s going to be nice, but very shacky at the same time,” Deutsch said. “I call it shackadelic.”

Deutsch hopes to open sometime in May, but he also is trying to launch another restaurant in Portola Valley – Rusty’s Roadhouse Grill.

“Two at once on opposite coasts is going to be a challenge,” he said.

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